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Wow: Finnair Reuses And Recycles 99.2% Of Retired Airbus A319

Finnair and recycling partner Kuusakoski have reused and recycled 99.2% of a decommissioned Airbus A319. After flying for 21 years, the Airbus had reached the end of its operational life. Rather than sending the plane off to slowly rot in an aircraft graveyard somewhere, Finnair chose a more environmentally friendly route.

A Finnair Airbus 319 back tracking prior departs from
Finnair has resused and recycled 99.2% of a decommissioned Airbus A319. Photo: Getty Images

”The recycling project brought us something positive to focus on during a difficult period, and we were happy to employ people in Finnair’s maintenance. It was great to see that we were able to do something like this,” said Project Manager Timo Rossi from Finnair Maintenance in a statement.

It wasn’t the first aircraft recycling project at Finnair, but this was the most ambitious. The Airbus was also the first-ever commercial passenger aircraft recycled in at home Finland rather than abroad.

With many Finnair employees underemployed, the Helsinki-based airline decided to take the plane apart on home turf using their own in-house human resources.

“Our staff gained new skills and experience by, for example, doing the kinds of component removals that we haven’t done for a while at Finnair,” Mr Rossi adds.

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Finnair A319 aluminum off to Mercedes Benz

According to Finnair, their maintenance teams removed almost 2,000 parts and components. The airline says a percentage of the recovered parts and components will go into inventory for re-use across Finnair’s narrowbody fleet. The remaining retrieved parts and components are onsold to other Airbus operators. Finnair says 38.5% of the Airbus A319 will be reused.

“We’ll be able to have significant cost savings by not having to buy spare parts from external vendors,” says Mr Rossi.  “We’ll also get savings from not having to ground planes that are waiting for a spare part.”

Around 15 tonnes of aluminum from the Airbus was recycled. The 15 tonnes of aluminum constitutes 41.9% of the aircraft. Finnair’s recycled aluminum is off to Mercedes Benz – that C-Series you buy next year may have former Airbus DNA in it.

Finnair’s decommissioned A319 slowly getting pulled apart in Helsinki. Photo: Finnair

Finnair will take a plane by plane approach to future recycling projects

Between the high levels of reuse and recycling, 87.6% of the decommissioned A319 has found an environmentally friendly afterlife. Of the remaining 12.4%, 7.4% of the aircraft was recovered as energy. Recycling partner Kuusakoski manufactures fuel from energy-containing waste that is unsuitable for recycling.

4.2% of the aircraft will be used in research. Kuusakoski is currently involved in a project that explores the utilization of composite. Materials from the Finnair aircraft will be used in this project. Kuusakoski is a leading processor and supplier of recycled metals in Northern Europe. In total, only 0.8% of the aircraft ended up as waste.

Source: Finnair

While the decision to reuse and recycle the Airbus was grounded in hard-cold economics as much as environmental sustainability motives, the project ties in nicely with Finnair’s goal of reaching net carbon zero by 2045.

“We made the decision to take the plane apart at our home hub to optimize sustainability and economics,” said Finnair’s Juha Ojala when the Airbus recycling project was first announced.

There’s no guarantee Finnair will keep repeating the process at home. ”We make these decisions for one aircraft at a time,” says Timo Rossi. Finnair has 16 Airbus A319s and A320s now approaching an average age of 20 years.

“At the moment, we are not planning to take any more aircraft out of use, so we haven’t made any decisions. But at least we now know that we have the skills and capabilities to do this again if we need to, having gone through the process once.”

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